Google Sandbox Effect update at the bottom.
A lot has been written about the so called Google Sandbox Effect in SEO forums over the last year or so, but not much of it is backed up by reality or facts. In 2004 Google had a major algorithm update, this resulted in many new sites loosing recent SERPs and an increase in difficulty in getting a new site ranked.
This was quickly named The Google Sandbox Effect
The original description of the Sandbox Effect is a new site that had gained some good SERPs suddenly lost them all and was sent to oblivion.
The Sandbox initial signs were a new site with some good SERPs suddenly loosing them all for no good reason!
However since the initial drop of new sites in early 2004 at SEO Gold we’ve not seen this effect on any new sites we’ve registered/dealt with since (well over 100 new domains) this has lead us to believe the original description is wrong and we have a theory why. When Google updated it’s algorithm to make ranking in Google much harder some new sites that just started to rank well in the old algorithm got caught in the middle of this update, as you’ll discover it’s not the age of the site per se that’s the problem, it other factors (age and quality of links/PR) that keep a site in the sandbox.
Google Moves the Goal Posts Again, We are in the Sandbox!
Prior to this update a new site could rank quite well in about three months if it was optimised and had a strong link campaign, the links had an effect on Google rankings after just a few months. Anyone with a site registered in 2004 or later knows this is no longer the case, doesn’t matter what you do a new domain (we’ve tried thousand of links to a small number of high quality links) will not rank well in Google until it’s aged. The age of a new domain at first sight seems to be the main sandbox factor, but there is no obvious pattern, some report crawling out of the sandbox after 6 month, others are still stuck in the sand a year or more later.
Is the Google Sandbox Ageist?
This aging before ranking has been mistaken for a filter on newly registered domains, this isn’t the case. We’ve run a series of tests at SEO Gold using a combination of newly registered domains and domains registered up to 5 years ago that have not been marketed at all (PR 0) or not very well (PR below PR 4).
If the age of a domain caused the sandbox effect we’d expect to see all of our test domains that are over a year old to rank much quickly than a newly registered domain. We didn’t see this at all, there were differences but not due to the age alone, but the PR/links to the domain.
Testing the Sandbox Effect
Below you’ll find a few examples from the 20 plus domains we tested.
We bought a domain mid August 2005, it was originally registered October 2002, it was not indexed in Google (was redirected to another site) and so had no links to it. It had been indexed in the past (years ago), but the domain was reported as PageRank 0 home page after the redirect was lifted. Basically this site was equivalent to a newly registered domain in all aspects except it’s original registration date.
We added a large site to this domain and enough links to make a few PR4 pages at the next PR update. As I write this we’ve owned the site for just over two months and it’s traffic is similar to what we see with a newly registered domain (low traffic).
Another site we bought mid August 2005, it was originally registered August 2004, it had a few pages indexed in Google and so had a few links to it (not enough to rank well though). The home page was PR2.
We added a large site to this domain and added enough links to make one PR5 page and a few PR4 pages at the next PR update. As I write this we’ve owned the site for just over two months and it’s traffic is similar to what we see with a newly registered domain (low traffic) though slightly higher than the first site above (not enough to warrant excitement though).
Another site we bought mid August 2005, it was originally registered October 2003, it had a few pages indexed in Google and so had a few links to it (not enough to rank well though). The home page was PR3.
We added a large site to this domain and added enough links to make one PR5 page and a few PR4 pages at the next PR update. As I write this we’ve owned the site for just over two months and it’s traffic is significantly higher to what we see with a newly registered domain. If this was a domain we registered for the first time in August this year we wouldn’t expect to see this traffic for another 4 or more months. We wouldn’t consider this site fully out of the sandbox, but it’s on it’s way.
None of the sites above have any really difficult SERPs, the ones with more traffic have more SERPs than the others.
Another site we bought mid October 2005, it was originally registered September 2003, it had quite a few pages indexed in Google (but they had been deleted recently) and so had links to it, a lot of links to it. The home page was PR5 and we’ve found one PR6 page on the site and many PR5 pages.
We added a large site to this domain and added no links so far. As I write this we’ve owned the site for less than a week it’s traffic is significantly higher to what we see with a newly registered domain. If this was a domain we registered for the first time in August this year we wouldn’t expect to see this traffic for another 6 or more months.
What’s interesting about this last domain is it’s immediately obtained some semi competitive SERPs. You don’t see this with newly registered domain, so this domain is out of the sandbox by a long mark and we expect to make a lot of money from it as the new site is fully indexed etc…
Delayed Link Benefits
It’s still early days on these SEO tests, but results so far strongly suggest having an old domain like the ones mentioned above does not preclude your site from the sandbox. Having a little PR (so links) does seem to help speed the process up a little and having a lot of old links helps a lot. This leads us to the early conclusion what we are seeing is a delay in benefit from links.
Why Doesn’t Google Trust Webmasters Anymore?
There’s a little more to it though than the age of links to a site, we have sites that are well over 1 year old with PR5, PR6 and even PR7 home pages, these have stable links for over a year and their traffic tends to increase over time. We added a new section to one of these sites (PR7 home page) recently and with just one link from the home page (results in a PR6 ‘home page’) thousands of pages were indexed and that section received 6,000 new visitors a day almost immediately! Everything we put on that site does well because it’s got a lot of high quality stable links, that site seems to be trusted by Google and so links to a page are given full benefit immediately. Had we added the same content to a newly registered domain or one of the test domains above we’d be lucky to see 300 visitors a day, even if we added the same links to it (we’ve tried it).
In our experience what we are seeing here is a delay in ranking from links and a kind of trusted status when a domain reaches a certain stage, it’s like a PRX link to a non-trusted site isn’t resulting in a quick benefit like you would have seen a couple of years ago. Now it takes 6 or more months for a new link to transfer significant benefit and longer for full benefit. We’ve speculated this is to thwart the text link sellers, a webmaster purchases a bunch of links and sees their home page PR jump, but three months in no significant traffic increase to warrant the cost. Hold on 6 months and see some benefit from the links and the longer you keep the links better it gets. The problem is how many webmasters are going to hold on those 6+ months with no guarantied ROI!
How To Cope With a Sandboxed Site
So what can a webmaster do about a sandboxed web site? Quite a bit, they can treat the site as though it’s not sandboxed working on link campaigns, optimizing content, adding new content etc… since eventually if you add enough stable links and are patient your site will leave the sandbox. As you’ve seen above with our tests a possible stepping stone over the sandbox is to buy domains with links to them that are already out of the sandbox, this can be expensive though and you need to be very careful not to be conned. during our search for test domains we found plenty of PR5, PR6 and even PR7 domains that didn’t really have that PR, they had been redirected to a high PR page which temporarily gave them high PR!
Google Sandboxed Effect Update
July 2008 and little has changed. Over the past couple of years we’ve registered and dealt with many more domains and we still see the same slow rankings gains we saw when the Google Sandbox was first reported.
Register a new site today and it’s going to take about a year to be in any chance of ranking for any competitive SERPs.
We tried circumventing the Google sandbox by buying old domains with PR that had expired, (you can buy them at auction) at first they did much better than a comparable newly registered domain, but as time passed they tended to drop their initial PR.
Unfortunately Google resets expired domains PR/links so it’s not the way to go to avoid the sandbox. I’m afraid you have to either buy a domain with aged PR/links that has not expired or build up it’s PR/links over time.
Author: David Law (SEO Consultant)
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